Out of the Broomcloset: Et in Arcadia ego?

Summer walks outdoors.
Summer walks outdoors. Photo by Leon Calafiore

Here we are entering a new season, and hopefully you have comfortable footwear, as so many institutions, as well as individuals, seem intent on leading us all down the garden path. Well, it’s not the sort of inducement to leave the house that one had been hoping for, but I wholly support being out and about, as well as any excuse for new footwear.

So many of the trend lines in Western civilization extend out to us from their origin in the concept of the “garden,” which means going outside. This begs the question of why so often we seem intent in sequestering ourselves from it. Perhaps it’s a matter of fables about serpents leading us away from grace and favor being taken to heart (or, a fear of missing an episode of Ghost Hunters).

Our antecedents spent so much of their time outdoors, even if it were only because their mothers pointed out that it was nice outside and they should go outside (even if there was a monsoon). Otherwise, it was to tap into the numinous magical powers that resided somewhere else, outside our paltry constructions.

Hesiod, watching his sheep, and falling asleep under a tree, was endowed with the ability to compose songs by the Muses, before Homer was inspired in the same way. Without these occurrences, we probably would have never had the wonderful experience of drag queen story hour (as no one would’ve been writing stories down) and so there would be no books in the library, except for instructions in accountancy and perhaps the book with the snake story.

It’s more a pagan way to be out and about, in search of an encounter such as Hesiod had, and to be susceptible to the influences around you. So often we concern ourselves too much about that which we can see. For those of you who have companion animals, you are certainly familiar with them sometimes stopping short in their tracks, staring at something ineffable which we are capable of seeing ourselves (as it is generally unlikely, but possible, that you have a classical Greek poet in your entourage to exhibit the effects of the unseen).

Even you, yourself, may in various situations suddenly have the feeling that you are being observed.

For the pre-Socratic philosopher, Thales, as well as for the Romans, there was an acknowledgment that existence was filled with gods (rather like the medieval Christian idea of angels being packed around us), whose responsibilities and abilities were so differentiated, so finally apportioned that it would be impossible to name them, but whose influence could be sensed, hallowed and honored, in some way, so they you might stay on their good side.

The contemplative mind might find these tidbits engaging, as we go into a season of pride and joy in having allies in unexpected places.